iTunes $9.99 Multi-Pass: Just What Videos Needed

iTunes $9.99 Multi-Pass: Just What Videos Needed 1

This morning brought a very pleasant surprise for fans of two Comedy Central shows – and those hoping to see Apple’s iTunes Music Store become an even bigger force in digital downloads. Along with the addition of popular political news show parodies The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to iTunes, Apple unveiled Multi-Pass, a $9.99 subscription package that provides 16 episode downloads for a single low price. Individual episodes can still be purchased for $1.99.

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As Apple explains it, the Multi-Pass “includes the most recent episode (if one is available) and the next 15 new episodes” of the show. “The most recent episode (if available) will download immediately and future episodes will download as they become available.” To get the math out of the way, you’d normally pay a little under $32 for the same 16 episodes through iTunes – a serious “savings” of roughly $22 if you actually believed the episodes were worth $2 a piece in the first place. Using Multi-Pass, you pay less than 65 cents per show, a much better deal.

But the other really smart component of Multi-Pass is its subscription premise. You’re still making a bulk purchase, like buying a $9.99 album from iTunes, but now delivery of 15/16 of the content takes place over the course of weeks rather than immediately. The convenience factor is obvious – no more clicking once per new episode; just turn on iTunes or keep it running in the background, and they’ll download automatically upon release. Given concerns from some of our readers over interrupted or failed download attempts – and problems getting resolution from iTunes customer service – we hope that Apple has a mechanism in place to make sure that people are actually getting what they paid in advance to receive.

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That aside, our biggest questions at this point are these: how widespread will Multi-Pass become, and will Apple develop a similarly reasonable bulk purchase model for older videos? At the moment, it’s hard to tell – or even make an educated guess – whether subscriptions to The Daily Show or The Colbert Report are representative of an emerging iTunes video trend, or just a test of a specific genre of TV content. After all, topical news programs – even comedy ones – might not be assumed to have the same shelf life as, say, episodes of the A-Team. Who would pay, goes the argument, for days- or weeks-old news? It’s conceivable that Multi-Pass is destined only for this sort of content – that which has lots of value each day it’s downloaded, but little value thereafter.

Even so, we strongly – emphasis on the word “strongly” – hope to see Multi-Pass appear across a much wider swath of TV shows. While we applauded Apple’s breakthrough $1.99 per show pricing last October as a good first step towards popularizing paid video downloads, there has been no doubt in our minds that mass-market acceptance would depend on smarter pricing and/or superior video quality; in both an iLounge poll and a Reader Editorial, readers appeared to agree, even though a majority ultimately said that Apple’s move to video was the most important iPod/iTunes event of 2005. From everything we’ve seen, we believe that readers are saying this: iPod and iTunes videos are a big deal and great idea – just sell them to us at a more reasonable price, make sure they look good on both iPods and computers, and we’ll buy them.

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iLounge has previously noted that users have options for getting video onto their iPods – using and transferring content from DVRs, converting existing video files into iPod format (with iTunes or specific Windows PC or Mac programs), or downloading from the iTunes Music Store. Frankly, as most of iLounge’s editors are now hooked on The Office, and have downloaded multiple episodes, we’ve found that the convenience and commercial-free nature of iTunes downloads makes them a preferred choice. But pricing will be key to winning over millions more people. Multi-Pass has given us all new reason to believe that iTunes’ videos could actually beat music’s 1,000,000,000 downloads record, sooner rather than later.

What do you think about Multi-Pass and $9.99, 16-episode downloads? As always, we appreciate and look forward to reading your comments below.

  1. That sounds like a good deal. But Canada (as well as other countries) are still waiting access for these video contents.

  2. Heartily agree that the no commercial format is a major bonus to watching TV shows. After getting hooked on the Office through iTunes, I cant watch it on television anymore. The commercials screw with the timing, and it just isn’t as enjoyable. I still feel like this 16 episodes/$10 model is too expensive, but I’m probably going to go for it. These shows are brilliantly funny, and without the commercials, how can you lose? Being able to watch them when you want is another big bonus. Of course, with all these types of things, it currently has a large novelty factor. We’ll have to give it time and see if in 3 months we still care.
    This whole thing does make me second-guess my cable subscription. Comedy Central is a major reason for having cable. If we can get all their content a la carte…

  3. That puts the downloads at about 1/3 the cost of a 16-episode DVD set. Sounds about right to me, since DVD gives you higher resolution, extras and packaging. $10 for 16 feels just about right. I think it’s a smart move, one that will pay off in a big way if a true video iPod is actually the next big release.

  4. Now there was another major feature added to iTunes pricing yesterday. For some time, you could buy a pre-release single off select albums, and pre-order albums. But yesterday iTunes added “Pre Order and get a Track Now” to Ben Harper’s new album. Where you can pre-order the album and download a single right away. Excellent. Its been a long time coming

  5. The future is NOW. 1.99 was too much to pay for so little content, and dated at that (see the ESPN commercials) but bought in bulk that might get sales jumping and people more willing to shell out .65 for something that will be old news by tomorrow. Sportscenter might look into somehting like this. Make the show available for .50 an episode and people will be watching on the LIRR into work everyday!!

  6. I can’t see myself paying $1.99, or even cheaper, to watch a News show… don’t get me wrong, i love Jon Stewart, and his show, but i’m not going to keep re-watching it, compared to other C.C. shows.
    I’m Cheap.

  7. I think this is a special case of Comedy Central agreeing to a lower per-episode price in exchange for the guaranteed revenues of bulk purchases.

    Kind of like Costco forcing you to buy two gallons of pork and beans rather than a couple of small cans. (BTW, Seinfeld would be a great choice for downloads).

    CC has little to lose on this deal. If you think about it, these shows, as great as they are, don’t have DVD revenue potential because they’re topical.

  8. This is a very interesting move from Apple, and one I hope to see more often from now on. First they make a secret, exclusive deal with a bunch of guys with vision, in this case Comedy Central, who are willing to try something “new”. When the rest of the clients (NBC, ABC, Disney) see that this model actually works better for some programming, they will _beg_ Apple to make it available for them as well. It’s the Guerilla method. The grassroots method. On steroids.

  9. This kind of thing is great for someone like me – I don’t subscribe to cable because I can’t justify the cost – I buy most shows I like on DVD anyway and now I rip them all to my iPod (Futurama, anyone?). While this suits me most of the time, I do miss programs like The Daily Show. Except not anymore, because the Multi-Pass idea is GREAT.

    My only question is WOULD the Multi-Pass format work on other types of shows? If you could get a similar deal on shows like The Office, it might seriously affect the sales of DVD season sets, possibly driving up those prices on certain series.

  10. This option may work for me. I don’t subscribe to cable, which rules out TiVo and other PVRs.

    The reason I don’t subscribe is simple: I have kids (7 and 10 years old). We just don’t have time to watch very much, and so typical cable fees are a waste of money that encourages a waste of time. We try to keep all video content down to a few hours per week, for both the kids and ourselves.

    Apple’s relatively cheap prices allow my wife and I to watch the very few shows we find interesting in a convenient way. We avoid commercials and other TV programming, which is all good.

  11. Troll565 – BradPDX’s post is kind of why I don’t have TiVo – or cable. I don’t have kids, but I don’t have much time to watch TV either. Plus, there’s not much on TV I like – a few shows on Comedy Central, a few on Cartoon Network, and that’s pretty much it. I hate reality TV, so that pretty much leaves the rest of television out for me.

    I’d rather spend the thirty or forty bucks a few months apart from each other to get whatever new DVD season sets come out than spend that every month for 95% unwatchable garbage. That’s why I love DVD and now iPod – I don’t HAVE to have cable to see what I like. I also like the idea of supporting a show or company directly rather than through television advertising (as you can see, I take my entertainment seriously).

    A friend of mine and I have been discussing for a while the death of broadcast TV and cable, and the rise of television series DVDs and digital distribution is really making our case for us.

  12. until this video content will be opened to countries outside US, like Sweden. I will continue to be a bad bad boy and download illegal pirated torrents of these shows.

    its all up to the industry, will they make it available to the public legally or will the public have to take the content themselves illegaly…

    right now people outside US have no other option than the illegal by “stealing”

  13. The temptation is unquestionably huge. Because you can have it… whenever. And you get to keep it. So if you’re a compulsive re-watcher/-listener like my own self (I’m the guy who listens to some twenty-second clip of a song thirty times in a row, or some particularly brilliant sequence on a Seinfeld rerun I’ve got saved on TiVo until I figure out exactly what they’re doing that makes it so funny), the pay-to-watch (i.e., own) scenario is very tempting indeed. The problem, of course, is that if you’re a cable subscriber with TiVo AND an ongoing interest in watching, say, Stewart, Colbert, Seinfeld reruns, The Office, and maybe the odd PBS special, (not a glutton’s portion by anyone’s standards save perhaps the Luddites among), $10 for three weeks of ONE show begins to look kind of expensive. See what I’m saying? But… you know, this is the world we live in, and as I said, it’s pretty durned tempting, ain’t it?

  14. The Daily Show is shown Mon-Thurs, so you get four weeks for your $10.

    There are some huccups in the system – the Monday edition had a video sync problem and Tueday’s hasn’t shown up yet (probably for the same reason) – but I’ve decided to give it a shot. I don’t have cable or even an antenna on my TV. Instead, I have a Netflix account so I can watch whatever I want. And that includes the Daily Show, the only thing I miss about cable.

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